Ralph de Limésy: Conqueror’s Nephew? The Origins of a Discounted Claim
Jackson, Peter (University of Oxford)
Prosopon Newsletter (1997)
The name of Ralph de Limésy is well enough known to medieval prosopographers, both as a substantial tenant-in-chief in several counties in post-Conquest England and as the founder (ca 1095) of a Benedictine house at Hertford as a cell of St. Alban’s. From the seventeenth century, attempts have been made to put some flesh on the bones of this powerful but obscure figure by asserting that he had a very specific claim to royal patronage: that he was, in fact, the ‘sister’s son’ of William the Conqueror. The purpose of the present note is not to test this claim (which has long been discounted), but to trace its origin a little further back – and to demonstrate its surprising resilience. The claim was first made in print by the seventeenth-century poet and antiquary John Weever in his Ancient Funerall Monuments: ‘Here in this Towne [Hertford] was a Priory of blacke Monkes … founded by Raph Limsey, a Noble man … I have my authority out of the Collections of Thomas Talbot, sometime keeper of the Records in the Tower, a great Genealogist; these are his words. “Raph Lord Limsey buried in the Priorie of Hertford which he founded: he came into England with the Conquerour, and was his sisters sonne, as the Monkes of the same house report”.’ Talbot’s numerous surviving manuscripts in the Bodleian and in the British Library show him actively researching and extracting about the middle of the sixteenth century.